Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: George I

George I was King in the first half of the 18th century. He was the first of the Hanoverian kings.

He was born at Osnabruck in Hanover in 1660, and was the son of Ernst August, Elector of Hanover and Sophia, daughter of Frederick, King of Bohemia.

He visited London in 1680, when it was suggested that he might be a suitable husband for Princess (later Queen) Anne. The two, however, never liked each other.

George did marry Sophia Dorothea, daughter of George, Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg-Celle, in 1682. They had two children before the marriage was annulled in 1694, after Sophia began an affair with Philip von Konigsmark, a Swedish colonel of dragoons. George imprisoned Sophia in the Castle of Ahlden for the rest of her life (she died in 1726), and von Konigsmark disappeared, widely believed to have been murdered on George`s orders.

In 1701 the Act of Settlement was passed in Britain, to cater for the succession if both Mary II and Anne died without children. This excluded all Catholics from the throne, and thus James, the Old Pretender, son of James II, could not accede. The nearest Protestant heir was Sophia.

George succeeded his father as Elector of Hanover in 1698, and became heir to the British throne on the death of his mother Sophia in 1714.

He had distinguished himself as a soldier, commanding the Imperial Army on the Upper Rhine from 1707 to 1709, and developing a good relationship with John Churchill, who became Duke of Marlborough.

Shortly after his mother`s death, Anne passed away, and George became George I of Great Britain, at the age of 54.

One of the first impressions that George made on the British public was his bizarre parading of two mistresses, the Fat Mistress and the Thin Mistress. The Fat One was Sophia Charlotte (sometimes said to be just his friend as she was his half-sister) and the Thin One was Ehrengard Melusine von Schulenburg, who in 1719 was created Duchess of Kendal. When George and Sophia Charlotte were seen together, they were referred to as the Elephant and Castle.

The new king took eight weeks to actually come to Britain, preferring to indulge in a series of parties across Europe. When he did arrive at Greenwich, he was jeered by Londoners and strongly disliked in Scotland, where in 1715 the first Jacobite rebellion broke out at Braemar. James Edward Stewart, the Old Pretender and son of James II, failed to gain massive support, however, largely due to his dour demeanour. Those who had taken part in the rebellion were viciously punished.

George was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1714.

George could not speak English, but tried to understand key phrases, although his son George tried to help. He preferred, however, to communicate in French, but it was essential that he try to learn a smattering of English, and this made him all the more bad tempered.

George Frederic Handel came to England in 1715, immediately composing the Water Music, and became a much admired part of the English artistic and social scene.

George had a serious rift with his son George in 1717, which led to his need to be represented in Parliament, and this was the beginning of the need for a Prime Minister, the first of whom was Robert Walpole, with whom he also fell out but but reinstated later. The younger George in the meantime set up his own rival court at Leicester House.

The scandalous South Sea Bubble burst in 1720. The South Sea Company had been formed in 1711, with a virtual assurance that vast profits would be made from trade with the Spanish colonies in South America. George was made its Governor in 1718, and the fashionable of England flocked to invest. False stock rendered the investment worthless and threatened the monarchy, which was only saved by Walpole`s political skills.

Although Walpole kept Jacobite followers in check, a plot known as the Atterbury Plot, after one of its leaders, Francis Atterbury, the Bishop of Rochester, was discovered in 1722. Atterbury was banished, instead of the expected execution.

Jonathan Swift`s famous book "Gulliver`s Travels", published in 1726, is largely a satire on the political and religious intrigues of the time.

As well as Handel, George added to England`s culture by establishing Kensington Gardens and extending Hyde Park.

George I died at Osnabruck of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1727, and was buried at Leinschloss Church in Hanover, the first ruling monarch of England to be buried abroad since Richard I. He was succeeded by his son George II.

George I and Sophia Dorothea had two children. George succeeded him as George II. Sophia Dorothea was born at Hanover in 1685, married Frederick William I, King of Prussia and died at Monbijou Palace near Berlin in 1757.

George also had two illegitimate children by Melusina (whom it is sometimes claimed that he married). Petronilla was born in 1693, married Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield and died in 1778. Margaret was born in 1703, married Count von Lippe and died in1773.